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June 2014

Fun With Amiibos

AmiibosBy now you've probably heard about Nintendo's new amiibo line of character figurines.  Revealed at E3 2014 and debuting with the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros., the Amiibos are figurines of the Smash roster such as Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, Link, and Kirby that contain a special microchip inside them.  Place the amiibo on your GamePad's NFC reader to add the data on the chip to your game in a special way.  For instance, Smash allows you to summon the character in question into your game to assist you in battle.  Future games to use the feature include Yoshi's Woolly World and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.  Interestingly enough, a game that's already been released will also support the amiibos: Mario Kart 8.  Nintendo is so forward-thinking that they've snuck a special feature into a game I already own, but can't use until the amiibos hit stores.  Or can I?  If Nintendo plans that far ahead, perhaps some of the character figurines I already own are secretly amiibos.  In the name of science, I conducted a few tests on Twitter earlier this week.  The results were... less than promising, let's say.


Xbox One TV Commercial Is Controlling Consoles

Xbox OneMicrosoft has a slick new television commercial in circulation right now that shows off the Xbox One's voice command features via Kinect.  The spokesman in the commercial shows how easy it is to control the console with just a few spoken phrases like "Xbox on".  It demonstrates that the future is here, but like many innovations, there are unintended side effects.  Gizmodo reports that the commercial is triggering actual Xbox Ones that hear the commercial and causing them to act accordingly.

The Xbox One has a new advert starring Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul. Standard. But what is strange is that as he shouts "Xbox On" near its start, consoles around the world are firing up.

It seems that—perhaps unsurprisingly—the voice command triggers the machine's Kinect voice/motion sensor, activating the console.

Oops.  I'm reminded of an early idea for television remote controls, the Flashmatic, that used photoelectric sensors embedded in the TV to control channel selection and volume level.  Users had to point a flashlight at each sensor to trigger the desired action.  The problem with this is that exposing a TV to sunlight caused all the sensors to activate at once.  Let's just be glad that the commercial doesn't show off any system management functions.  It's probably for the best that "Xbox format hard drive" isn't a valid command.


Conan O'Brien Tries Super Smash Bros. For Wii U

Conan O'Brien has enough entertainment clout (or maybe Nintendo just wanted to get the game in front of someone with a large audience in the target demographic) to score some time with the E3 2014 demo build of the upcoming Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.  Watch as he tries to make sense of the madness that is the world of Nintendo, questions exactly what sort of creature Kirby is supposed to be, and wishes Zero Suit Samus had been replaced by Birthday Suit Samus.  Oh, and the answer you're looking for when you get to the point in the video where you feel you need to go look up U.S. presidents on Wikipedia is "John Adams". 


E3 2014: Two-For-One Bayonetta Deal Turns Heads

Bayonetta 2UPDATE: Nintendo has clarified that whether you buy Bayonetta 2 at retail or as an eShop download, you'll receive an eShop code to download the original Bayonetta.  That's even better than what I thought was going to happen.

We live in an age of video game developers and publishers remastering their greatest hits for the modern era and selling them all over again at full retail price.  This year's E3 has seen new versions of games that first released just last year; The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V are coming back this year, for instance.  Even older games are getting in on the act with The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One bundling four Halo games and Sony's announced reimagining of the original Ratchet & Clank for the PlayStation 4 (and if you can't wait until 2015 for that, there's a Vita remastering of the PS3 remastering of the original PS2 game coming out next month).  In a strange way, it seems like bringing back older games for a victory lap at full price has become the norm over new titles.  That's why it's so refreshing to hear that when Bayonetta 2 for the Wii U launches, it'll include a remastered version of the original Bayonetta on the disc for no extra cost.  How often does that happen anymore?  Kat Bailey at USgamer wonders how this happened.

In this day and age, it's also an unfortunate anomaly. After years of being nickel and dimed, I feel like we've all become kind of accustomed to getting shaken down by large publishers. But according to Hashimoto, all of Bayonetta 2's content will be available right out of the box. There will be no DLC whatsoever. 

"I feel like there's enough content there for one and a half games," Hashimoto boasts. 

It's kind of sad that I'm so surprised by Platinum's approach, but that's just the world we live in these days. Most publishers wouldn't think twice about putting a comprehensive port like Bayonetta on sale for $39.99. Plenty of others would pack in one or two of the Nintendo-themed outfits, and sell the rest as DLC content. Maybe I'm being too cynical, but in the Year of the Remaster, generosity on this level is almost unheard of. I'm almost wondering what the catch is. 

I tried the demo for the original Bayonetta on the PS3 back when it was released and while I liked what I played, I didn't feel the need to try the full game.  I'm semi-interested in the upcoming sequel and will end up at least renting it down the line, but was put off by the fact that I hadn't played the original and may well be lost when it comes to following the story.  No worries about that now!  Including the original game is a brilliant idea to entice those of us who skipped it previously and encourages those who have never heard of the property and don't want to dive into a sequel blind the opportunity to catch up.  I'm very glad that Nintendo and developer Platinum Games are doing things this way.  I wish more studios would follow this example, but that's a very unlikely pipe dream when there's money to be made.  And who knows?  Nintendo may get to offer its free cake bonus and eat it too.  The eShop version of Bayonetta 2 does not include the free bonus game and I wouldn't be surprised if it showed up on the eShop one day where it will definitely not be free to download.


E3 2014: Legend Of Zelda For Wii U Promises Open World Adventure

The next installment of The Legend of Zelda promises to reach back to the franchise's roots and present a true open world experience without the nagging, guiding restrictions that point Link from one area to another on a preset path according to the story.  Nintendo's developers promise that if you see a location, you can travel there which is something we've heard before, but I really want to believe it this time.  Take a look at the trailer above which shows off a little taste of Zelda in high definition.  If the final game looks like detailed and delivers on its promises, we're in for a treat.

By the way, there's been some controversy over whether or not that is Link riding on horseback in that trailer.  Nintendo's Eiji Aonuma commented earlier in the week that he never said that was Link who appeared in the trailer leading to lots of fan speculation that the character was a female Link incarnation.  Personally, if Link had to be absent, I was hoping it was Link's kid we saw there and that the famed real hero was playing the supportive role this time around.  Today Aonuma clarified that it was, in fact, a male Link in the trailer, so rest assured that even through the Zelda formula is moving away from its Ocarina of Time roots, there's still some familiarity in there.  You can't have a Zelda game without Link.  The Legend of Zelda is due out in 2015 (probably for the holidays).


E3 2014: Capcom Allegedly Considering "Pay To Win" Option For Street Fighter 5

Street Fighter

UPDATE: Capcom's Yoshinori Ono made a statement via Twitter explaining "The SFV news today about a pay to win model is not accurate and isn't something we're planning for."  Thank goodness.   

The sad world of microtransactions and so-called "pay to win" downloadable content has led us to this: word on the street is that Capcom is considering a way for unskilled Street Fighter players who want to complete nonetheless will have a way to kick in some money in return for an advantage of some sort in the upcoming Street Fighter 5 for the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One.  This report comes to us in English from EventHubs which, in turn, got it from Japanese source Sponichi Annex so this could all be a game of Telephone gone terribly wrong (purple monkey dishwasher), but in the event that it is accurate, let's consider some of what Capcom's top people are planning:

Capcom president and COO Haruhiro Tsujimoto said to media representatives in a group interview at E3 that the Osaka-based games maker has plans to develop a Street Fighter 5, and that it would not only fully utilise the unique features of online gaming, but also attempt to broaden the player base by making it more accessible for newcomers, Sponichi Annex reported.

"We'd like to steer away from making the next game such that skilled players will win, but unskilled players will lose almost instantaneously," Tsujimoto said.

As a means to achieve that (prevent unskilled players from losing instantaneously), Capcom is looking into possibly implementing some kind of pay-for-advantage system in Street Fighter 5 that will allow new players to cover for their lack of skill in matches.

Back in my day, if you were terrible at a video game, do you know how we improved?  Practice!  Video games, like any other hobby be it playing a musical instrument or throwing a football, require practice if you expect to be proficient at it.  In the ongoing quest to expand audience attach rates and keep people playing past what used to be points of frustration, games have become easier over the years.  At first, that was a blessing.  Some of those early Nintendo Entertainment System games could be just brutally unfair no matter how much time one sank into them.  Games like Street Fighter require a level of engagement and adaptation that has to be developed over time like anything else one doesn't know how to do.  That's why the great players are so revered in the community.  They've put in the time and pushed themselves to become the best.

If I pick up a controller for the first time and get my ass handed to me on a silver platter by challenging someone far out of my league, then the solution isn't for me to pay to gain an advantage.  The solution is for me to practice, challenge people of my skill level, and work my way up.  Being able to pay to jump ahead defeats the purpose of playing the game in the first place.  Of course, offering a pay to win option generates extra revenue for Capcom in a way that previous Street Fighter games have not.  No wonder the company wants to offer it.

If this is what Capcom really wants, I don't see how we can stop it.  Let me just say that if we have to go down the "pay to win" road to get Street Fighter 5 made, then the trade-off had better be that the extra downloadable costumes are free this time.


E3 2014: Mario Maker Level Creator Sparks Smiles

Mario MakerOne of Nintendo's neatest surprises at E3 2014 isn't even a proper game.  Mario Maker is more of a creative toy that allows players to create their own Super Mario Bros. levels using a modified version of Nintendo's own actual level building toolkit combined with a bit of 1992's Mario Paint.  You'll be able to place your own pipes, power-ups, Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Piranha Plants, and more, tweak your designs with testing capabilities, and eventually share them with friends.  Espeically neat is how you can change the visual design between a slightly improved 8-bit motif and a modern New Super Mario Bros. interpretation.  If I'm not careful, I'll let the charm of Mario Maker persuade me to name it the game of the show.  How can I be so certain?  Spend some time watching a Nintendo Treehouse Live @ E3 segment with one of Super Mario Bros.'s original developers, Takashi Tezuka, and I think you'll be swayed by Mario Maker as well.

The Wii U is the perfect platformer for Mario Maker and very appealing to those of us who grew up with Super Mario Bros. and always wanted to create our own levels.  Sure, there have been unofficial ways to do this kind of thing in the emulation world for years (ROM hacks are nothing new), but seeing a major video game publisher get behind remixing its own most recognized hit game from thirty years ago is such a breath of fresh air.  Nintendo is willing to experiment in order to try to get back on top of things.  It's been said many times that when Nintendo is in panic mode, amazing things happen.  Mario Maker is one of those amazing things.  It's due out in 2015.  I'm going to buy it right away.  I hope you will too.  We'll swap levels!


Power Button - Episode 132: E3 2014 Keynote Analysis Special

Power ButtonIt's become an E3 tradition for Power Button to team up with the EvilCast crew to discuss news and events from the big show, so once again Blake Grundman and I sit down with Ross Polly and Chris Nitz to talk about the five press conferences that opened this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.  We spend two hours digging through what Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Sony, and Nintendo all had to offer during their big stage shows (or digital event) and discuss the merits of each presentation.  This episode is supersized and since it's a joint production with the EvilCast, the language gets more explicit than usual for a traditional Power Button episode.  You've been warned!  With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get to the good stuff.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


E3 2014: Captain Toad Goes Forth In His Own Spin-off

Captain ToadWhile you weren't paying attention, Captain Toad became a hero.  After appearing as a nameless leader of the Toad Brigade in Super Mario Galaxy, he popped up in the sequel in a slightly larger role before going on to stardom as a playable character in a handful of special action puzzle levels in Super Mario 3D World.  Now Captain Toad is advancing to solo adventure stardom in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker which is an entire game's worth of levels based on the Captain Toad material from 3D World.  Watch the Nintendo Treehouse Live @ E3 crew play through the four E3 demo stages in which the captain plucks vegetables, evades a lava beast, rides in a minecart, and explores a haunted house.

I'm sure that it was easy for the developers to put this game together quickly.  It appears to use the Captain Toad engine ripped right out of 3D World and given a little more polish along with some reused assets from the game.  This is not a complaint; if anything, reusing that material helped keep development costs down and make this a viable project.  It's a full retail release, too, and not an eShop exclusive.  Can a Toad topline his own game?  It hasn't happened since Wario's Woods and that's not exactly a stellar title.   It helps that the Captain Toad levels are stronger experiences and more fun than Wario's Woods could ever hope to be.  The captain is such a joyful character; his trademark catchphrase may just well be "Ready for adventure!" as heard in 3D World and the E3 demo.  Here's hoping we see more of Captain Toad in the future.  He's too fun a character to slip away.


E3 2014: Star Fox Revived For Wii U

Star Fox for Wii U

Nintendo's Star Fox franchise skipped the Wii generation entirely, leading fans of Fox McCloud's exploits wondering when and even if we'd ever seen the series again.  Teased at the end of Nintendo's E3 digital event broadcast and formally announced shortly afterward, Shigeru Miyamoto has redefined Star Fox for the Wii U as part of his experiments into finding new ways to play games using the console's unique GamePad.  Kotaku's Stephen Totilo has played the early, rough form of the game (which, at this point, sounds like it's caught in the limbo between being a tech demo and a proper game) and elaborates on how this new Star Fox uses both the in-GamePad screen and the television in tandem.

The concept, Miyamoto explained, is to enable players to have independent control of where they fly and where they shoot. The GamePad's control sticks steer Fox's fighter jet, but the GamePad's gyro controls act more like a fighter pilot's targeting visor and let players tilt the pad to "look" in any direction to shoot. In practice, this means that the player will move wave the GamePad around to track targets if they so choose, instead of turning their Arwing to chase the targets down.P

"Before, in the N64 [game's] levels, when we had these valley modes, it was difficult to play those levels because the aiming was synced to the movement of the ship. So, as you were trying to aim, the movement of the ship was flying around within the valley. But now what we're able to do with the Wii U GamePad is, because the ship can move independently of your aiming, it makes it much more interesting and much more fun to play these valley modes where you're flying the ship but simultaneously aiming at a lot of different things in the level."

Totilo notes that the game includes very rough artwork and reused sound clips from the Nintendo 64's Star Fox 64 ("Check your G-defuser system!"), but Miyamoto hopes to finish the game within a year.  Even after reading about how the new Star Fox works, I don't quite understand it.  Having to look back and forth from GamePad to television seems like it would be confusing, but Nintendo maintains that the transition becomes more natural over time and given practice.  This seems like one of those gameplay innovations that, like the N64's analog control stick or the Wii remote's motion controls, I need to physically try in order to understand it.  Prior to seeing how to correctly use the N64's control stick, for instance, I tried to use it by grasping it with my thumb and finger like a tiny joystick.  My first try with a Wii remote resulted in some wild off-target swings at Wii Sports.  My point is, while I enjoy Nintendo's products, I'm not always the smartest at using them on my first try.  I'd probably crash my Arwing on my first flight, but I've learned not to doubt Miyamoto and trust that I'll quickly figure things out.

As for bringing back Star Fox itself, it's overdue.  Apparently Nintendo's developers worked on a new sequel during the Wii era, but never quite cracked what made it a worthwhile project and set it aside after six years of experimentation.  About six months ago or so, however, Miyamoto solved the puzzle and work resumed with the assets created for the unfinished Wii version.  So take heart, F-Zero fans!  Captain Falcon's next adventure could be gathering dust temporarily in the famed Nintendo vault.  But seriously, this is part of what I love about Nintendo's development process.  They never really throw away an idea that isn't working.  They just file it away and wait for the technology to catch up with it or until such a time that they solve whatever problem(s) held up development.  We hear about games being canceled all the time, but seldom do we hear about games rising from the dead.  It's actually refreshing to see.